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The final part of this excellent series of articles by Al Fadi of Biblical Missiology

Islamic Christology and a Christian Response (Part III)

September 4, 2013

This is Part III of Three of a Series of Articles on Islamic Christology

The following attributes of Christ in the Bible and even the Quran clearly portray a person who is more than a human with explicit divine attributes only ascribed to God.

Jesus – the ‘Author of Life’

The Quran portrays Jesus as the divine Creator and Author of life.

And Allah will teach him the Book and Wisdom, the Law and Gospel and (appoint him) a messenger to the children of Israel (with this message): “I have come to you, with a sign from your Lord, in that I make for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah’s permission. And I heal those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by Allah’s leave; and I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store.” (Q 3:48-49; cf. 5:110)

This is the closest the Quran comes to acknowledging the omnipotence of Christ. Christ is given a prerogative that is God’s alone, namely the ability to infuse life into non-living matter by the breath of his lips. This power bears a profound resemblance to the manner in which God fashioned the first man as we read in this Quranic passage:

‘And when the Lord said to the angels: I am going to create a mortal of sounding clay, of black mud fashioned into shape. So when I have made him complete and breathed into him of my spirit, fall down making obeisance to him’ (Q 15:28-29).

From this we observe that Christ, similar to God, is a life-giving spirit.

This fact is echoed in the Bible:

“….The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam 

(Jesus) became a life-giving Spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45).

The implications of this passage on the divinity of Christ are so enormous that certain sects within Islam have had to deny its literal interpretation in order to avoid the obvious.

 

Jesus – the ‘Alpha and the Omega’

For the Muslim it is Allah and Allah alone who is ascribed to be the beginning and the end and no human form or being can be attributed to be having this character. It says in the Quran,

But to Allah belongs the Last and the First” (Q 53:25).

He is the First and the Last, the Evident and Immanent; 

and He has full knowledge of all things” (Q 57:3).

And to Us belong the Last and the First” (Q 92:13).

Whereas the God of the Bible conveys to us:

Listen to me, O Jacob, Israel, whom I have called: I am he; 

I am the First and I am the Last.” (Isaiah 48:12) ‘….and He

said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, 

the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will 

give to drink without cost from the spring of the water 

of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be 

his God and he will be my son.” (Revelation 21:6-7)

 

and the Christ of the Bible resonates by saying:

Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I 

will give to everyone according to what he has done. 

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, 

the Beginning and the End… I, Jesus, have sent my angel 

to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root 

and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star… 

He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming 

soon.’” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:12-13, 16, 20)

The title First and Last, or the Alpha and Omega, implies that God is the cause of all existence and will be the cause for all things to come into completion. Jesus Christ, the one who died, states that it is He, as the very First and Last, who brought all things into being and will also be the cause for all things to come to a desired end. Hence, you begin and end with Christ, making Him the Eternal Creator God.

 

Jesus – the ‘Son of God’

One of Islam’s most quoted apologist and debaters, the late Ahmed Deedat, in the latter part of his booklet, included a relentless and at times uncouth attack on the Christian doctrine and Biblical teaching that Jesus is the Son of God. Nevertheless he is obliged to concede that from at least one point of view, “he is pre-eminently the Son of God.” He quotes a number of texts to show that the expression “son of God” is found often in the Bible in contexts where people are being described generally as children of God. He then concludes that when Jesus claimed to be the Son of God he was also only speaking in a metaphorical sense and that Christians err when they say that he was the ‘Son of God’ [in a literal sense].

 

No one can possibly draw such a conclusion without overlooking a wealth of evidence in the Bible that shows that Jesus was the literal Son of God in a unique and absolute sense. On numerous occasions he made statements that make this point very clearly. Consider this verse:

All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and 

no one knows who the Son is, except the Father, or who 

the Father is, except the Son and any one to whom the Son 

chooses to reveal him” (Luke 10:22).

As the Jews once testified, “no man ever spoke like this man” (John 7:46). No other prophet used such language to identify himself. All things, said Jesus, had been delivered to him and no one could know the Father unless the Son actually revealed him.

For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world,

but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).

Jesus is ‘God’

Muslim Argument: There is no clear biblical reference from the lips of Jesus claiming to be God. In fact, nowhere in the Bible does Jesus teach anyone to worship him. Instead he commands that one should worship God (cf. Matt. 4:10).

Christian Response: There is a very good reason why Jesus did not just come out right away and proclaim that he was God. Noted New Testament Scholar and Catholic Theologian, Raymond E. Brown who states it best:

“The question concerns Jesus a Galilean Jew of the first third of the first century, for whom ‘God’ would have a meaning specified by his background and the theological language of the time. By way of simplification (and perhaps oversimplification)  let me say that I think by a Jew of that period ‘God’ would have been thought of as One dwelling in the heavens–among many attributes. Therefore, a question posed to Jesus on earth, ‘Do you think you are God? Would mean did he think he was the One dwelling in heaven. And you can see that would have been an inappropriate question, since Jesus was visibly on earth. As a matter of fact the question was never asked of him; at most he was asked about his relationship to God.”

Therefore, for Jesus to say that he was God without qualification would have meant that Jesus was claiming to be the same person commonly referred to by both Jews and Christians as the Father. Yet, Jesus was not the same person as the Father, but was distinct from him, sharing the same essence and nature equally. Brown notes:

“… I would say that by that time (i.e. the last decade of the first century), under the impact of their quest to understand Jesus, Christians had in a certain sense expanded the meaning of the word ‘God.’ It no longer for them simply covered the Father in heaven; it covered the Son on earth. They had come to realize that Jesus was so intimately related to God, so filled with God’s presence, that the term God was applicable to him as it was to the Father in heaven. May I emphasis that this does not involve a change in Jesus; it involves a change and growth in the Christian perception of who he was.”

That Brown does not mean to say that it was Jesus’ followers, and not Jesus himself, who came to realize that he was God, is clear from his following statement:

“Did Jesus have an identity which his followers later came to understand in terms of his being God? If he was God (and most Christians do agree on that), did he know who he was? I think the simplest answer to that question is ‘yes’.”

Hence, once Jesus had clearly affirmed the distinction between the Father and himself the term “God” came to be understood as a reference not just to a specific person, but also to all the Persons of the Godhead, including the Holy Spirit. Once this qualification had been made clear, Jesus went on to make divine claims. Some claims include the following:

  1. Jesus clearly refers to Himself as God to the Gadarene demoniac. (cf. Luke 8:38-39)
  2. Jesus applies titles of God to Himself, such as (a) First and the Last. (cf. Isaiah 48:12; Revelation 1:17-18, 22:12-13, 20); (b) I AM. (cf. Isaiah 48:12; John 8:58, 18:4-6)
  3. The Jews understood clearly what Jesus meant when He called Himself (a) The Good Shepherd (John 10:10-12, cf. Ezekiel 34); (b) The Son of God (John 5:18, 10:30-34)

This brief list conclusively proves that Jesus both knew and claimed that He was God.

Furthermore, the Holy Bible ascribes all the essential attributes of God to Christ.

Creator – John 1:3, 10; Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:2, 10-12.

Omnipotent – Matthew 28:18; Luke 24:44-46; John 5:19-21; Philippians 3:21; Colossians 1:17; Revelation 1:8.

Omnipresent – Matthew 18:20, 28:20; John 1:45-49; 14:20-21, 23; 17:23, 26; 20:24-29; Romans 8:10; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Ephesians 1:23; 4:10; Colossians 1:27; 3:11.

Omniscient – Mark 2:1-12; Matthew 9:4; 11:27-30; 16:27; 17:27; John 2:23-25; 16:30-31; 21:17; 1 Corinthians 4:5; Colossians 2:2-3; Revelation 2:23; 22:12.

Eternally Pre-existed – John 1:1, 14, 17:3, 5; Philippians 2:5-8; Galatians 4:4-6; Colossians 1:15.

The preceding passages should clearly demonstrate that the Lord Jesus is not called God in the same sense that others were called as a result of their being God’s spokespersons. He is truly God by nature. Christians are therefore not misinterpreting the Holy Bible but are correctly understanding and applying God’s Word by their worship of Jesus as the True God and Savior of all men.

Conclusion

As we have observed, one of the ways to approach the issue of Christology in Islamic context would be to seek out their own Islamic sources. In particular one must look for evidence of thinkers and writers who upon their encounters with Greek philosophy represented Islam in newer philosophical terms and whose legacies were continued by theoretical mysticism. One must ask the question as to whether these newer systems of thought and Islam as it got filtered through them perceived God-man; theology-anthropology poles differently than did their conservative antecedents living within the sterile Semitic environments.

Finally, there would be no better way to close this paper than to remind us in the manner Edmund J. Fortman best sums up biblical Christology by putting all the pieces together.

“At times Paul writes as if Christ is ‘subordinate’ to the Father. For he tells us that ‘God sent forth his Son to redeem’ (Galatians 4:4) and ‘did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all’ (Romans 8: 32). And in a notable passage he declares that ‘when all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one’ (1 Corinthians 15: 28). Taken by themselves these passages might warrant the conclusion that Paul held a merely subordinationist view of Christ and did not place Him on the same divine level with the Father. But if they are taken together with the passages cited above in which Paul does put Christ on the same divine level as the Father by presenting Him as the creator of all things and the ‘image of the invisible God’ who was ‘in the form of God’ and equal to God, it becomes clear that Paul views Christ both as subordinate and equal to God the Father. Possibly he thus means merely to subordinate Christ in His humanity to the Father. But more probably he wishes to indicate that while Christ is truly divine and on the same divine level with the Father, yet there must be assigned to the Father a certain priority and superiority over the Son because He is the Father of the Son and sends the Son to redeem men, and there must be ascribed to the Son a certain subordination because He is the Son of the Father and is sent by the Father. Nowhere, however, does Paul say or imply that the Son is a creature. On the contrary, he makes it clear that the Son is not on the side of the creature but of the Creator and that through the Son all things  are created …”

May the risen Lord open the eyes of the Muslim people to see the Glory of the Risen Lord and to seek His salvation as the ONLY way to the Father.

Reprinted with permission from Biblical Missiology